to table of contents
VIII Number 6
older generation rug book, say, F. R. Martin's, wasn't too squeamish
to include Yazd in its carpet taxonomy, but more recent authorship,
say, May Beattie, is quite circumspect. (1) One way of investigating
the possibilities is through the eyes of European travellers.
The Italian merchant Josapha Barbaro had first-hand knowledge of northern
Persia and White Sheep Turkmen Tabriz in the middle of the 15th century.
It is unlikely that he was in central Persia or Yazd. Its products he
marked as "sylkes, fustians, chamletts, and other like", noting
that Yazd imported silk from several areas, including Bokhara. In a
discussion of Tabriz commerce, he wrote that its caravan traffic for
Aleppo included "many light articles of silk from the manufactures
of Jesdi." (2)
John Newberie, in Hormuz and Shiraz in 1581, but probably not Yazd,
identified its products as both raw and finished cotton goods. (3) Teixeira,
in the Persian Gulf in 1604, made (in English translation) this observation:
"Carpets, by the Persians call'd Kalichey, are made in Three Parts
of Persia, the richest, finest, and highest priz'd, at Yazd, some of
which I have seen so curiously [finely] wrought, that they were valued
at above a Thousand Ducats a piece; so that when they speak of a Yazd
Carpet, which in Portuguese they corruptly call Dodiaz, it is to be
understood of the finest, and best." He also mentioned the "many
and rich carpets of Yazd." (4) While he was definitely in Aleppo
and Baghdad, it seems doubtful if Teixeira was in central Persia and
Yazd. The referent for "carpet", of course, is obscure, but
"kalichey" might have a clear meaning.
Richard Steel and John Crowther visited Yazd in 1615 and in their journal
noted its products as "Taffatas, Sattens, and Damaskes". (5)
Chardin, active in Persia in the middle half of the 17th century, mentions
Yazd as a source of embroidery, some of it using fine gold and silver
thread, as well as being the producer of extremely expensive brocades.
Another named Yazd product was stuffs made out of camel wool. Definitely
in central Persia, Chardin may not have visited Yazd. (6)
Tavernier, in Kerman in 1654 and in Ispahan in 1664, said of Yazd:
"They make at Yezd many stuffs of silk mixed with gold and silver
which they call Zerbafte, others of pure silk called Dana which are
like our plain and striped taffetas. They also make some of half silk
and half cotton, and others of pure cotton which are like our fustians.
[Coarse cloth made of cotton and flax.] They make there, in addition,
serges of a particular wool, which is so fine and so delicate that this
stuff is more beautiful and more expensive than if it were of silk..."
(7) It is not conclusive that he was in Yazd.
Sauveboeuf, of the 1780's, associated a large commerce in silk and cotton
cloth with Yazd. (8) Francklin, who traversed Persia in 1786/7, remarked
of Yazd and "Carmania" -- the region in which Yazd
was located -- that its products were woolen goods, silks, worked linens,
felts, and carpets. (9) Fraser, in Teheran and Khorassan (but not central
Persia) in 1821 and 1822, put silk manufacturing in Yazd, and placed
Yazd on his list of carpet-making locales. His table summarizing the
commerce of Persia identified various silk goods, cotton cloths, carpets,
and nummuds (felts) among Yazd products. (10) The references to carpets
by these authors may be to pile floor coverings.
Oliver, a traveller of the 1790's, makes comments ominously parallel
to Chardin's, grouping Yazd with Kashan and Ispahan as sources of "brocades",
"velours", "taffetas", and "satins"; and
with Kerman as a maker of camel wool shawls inferior to those of Kashmir,
but good enough for the rich. (11) Definitely in Kashan and Ispahan,
it appears he did not visit Yazd.
Jaubert, in Persia 1805/06, when in Teheran mentioned among gifts to
the harem "brocades of Yezd". (12) Drouville, of unknown itinerary
in Persia in 1812 and 1813, described Yazd as "renowned for its
products of silks, cotton and other stuffs." (13) These three Frenchmen
are alike in not mentioning carpets.
Chesney, with first-hand experience in Mesopotamia in the 1830's, but
otherwise equipped only with extensive reading -- albeit from good sources
-- about the Near East, described Yazd as "producing carpets, felts,
cotton and superior silk manufactures..." (14) The source of this
information was an account by a Captain Christie, who did visit Yazd.
Someone who was in Yazd in the 1830's was C. H. Burgess, about which
he commented: "Yezd I found greatly injured by the late war. It
is a place of much production, and its manufactures of silks of all
kinds are justly esteemed the finest and best in Persia; it is also
famous for carpets, sweetmeats, sugar, and fire-arms. It was the seat
of a very considerable commerce in shawls, brocades and precious stones,
drawn chiefly from Cashmeer and India.. ." (15) Burgess presents
a believable first-hand observation placing carpets in Yazd.
Oliver St. John, in Yazd in 1872, reported that the 9000 silk workers
of the previously period had dropped to 300; he also mentioned felt
production. (16) Orsolle, in the Teheran bazaar in the mid-1880's, listed
among its products "the brocades woven by the Gueber women of Yazd".
(17) The knowledgeable Percy Sykes, in central Persia in the 1890's,
noted that there then were 700 silk looms in Yazd. (18) Savage-Landor,
in the major Persian cities including Yazd, in 1901/2, during a long
run-down of carpet making noted in an aside that Yazd made rugs, and
that it exported "cotton carpets." (19)
What to make of all of the above isn't clear, and the best view
is one of caution. There is no question about a textiles tradition in
Yazd, but the pile carpet may be somewhat problematic. The majority
of the authors mentioning Yazd has not visited it; thus the information
is at a remove, and one needs to remember that a distinction between
carpets made in a given place, and carpets coming from a given place,
is not a travel literature characteristic. Moreover, the earlier the
use of the term, carpet, in either French or English, the vaguer the
referent, and often the word can only be taken to mean some sort of
a covering for something.
The Teixeira quote has its problems. For one thing, it comes from a
translation, not reliable. Assuming, however, that the key word "Kalichey"
does refer to the Persian term for a small costly carpet (20), there
is a requirement to treat the source gingerly with respect to its implications
for Yazd output being among large, so-called classical carpets until
there can be confidence as to what the term meant to at the beginning
of the 17th century.
One notion which can be entertained is that in the first half of the
19th century some carpets originated in Yazd. Chesney was not there
but was well versed in the east, and was relying on a first-hand report;
Burgess was there. It is possible to believe, then, that the later central
Persian output does contain some Yazd rugs which are currently unrecognized.
LESSONS IN THE SPECIFIC
In 1785 one J. Griffiths, an English doctor, made the inland journey
from Smyrna to Konia. He was generally literate in textile matters.
For example, at "Allah-Sheer" (old Philadelphia) he commented:
"Coarse cottons and carpets are here manufactured; the art of dyeing
is said to be better understood than in most parts of the neighbouring
country." (21) Four days later, at an unnamed village apparently
two stages before Konia, he made a minor but quite significant observation:
"In this village we found several hundred Greeks, who pursued an
advantageous commerce in wollen cloths, and carpets of the Turkish manufacture;
which, when finished, are forwarded to Koniah, and from thence to Constantinople
and Persia." (22)
It is not difficult to arrive at a fair interpretation of this statement.
The shipment to Konia can be taken as so, the further shipment less
so, as Griffiths followed the product to Konia, but not further. (A
more normal export route from Konia would have been Smyrna.) There is
no question about the inhabitants being Greek, and their being weavers,
not merely traders, for the comment "when finished" puts manufacture
in the village. While the phrase "of the Turkish manufacture"
is less than design specific, chances seem very good that a Turkish
type rug is being referred to. The moral of this bit of reality is quite
simple: speculation about either origins or design progression within
a carpet type which ignores the possibility of ethnic diversity among
weavers can only be deficient. Those who use materials and/or design
change to locate or to date rugs make the unstated assumption that the
only variables are place and time. In many rug weaving areas the omission
of an ethnic variable is untenable.
Another instructive travel observation is made one by Pierre Jaubert
in 1805. Drawn to the Kajar court in Teheran, as were many other Frenchmen
during the Napoleonic Wars, while en route for Tabriz on his return
trip, slightly past "Zenghian" and somewhat before Mianeh
("half-way") he stopped for lunch in a Shahsavan tent, which
he observed was like the tents of the Kurds, and commented on the people.
"Their principal industry consists of the manufacture of rugs and
all sorts of little woolen items, such as stockings, slippers, gloves,
etc., which are of a great perfection as much for the weaving as for
the design." (23)
Collectors of Shahsavan pieces will register on how apt is the characterization
of the weaving, and will not be surprised by the product range. The
observation is a pointed reminder that nomadism and commerce were quite
compatible, indeed, necessary, as nomads converted their material resource,
wool, into forms suitable for exchange for items they lacked. This particular
example is useful in that it occurs well before the Western interest
in Eastern textiles, and reveals a local circumstance untroubled by
outside influence. The idea that nomadic weaving was exclusively for
home use is one of the canards of the rug world.
- Beattie, May
H., Carpets of Central Persia, Kent, 1976.
of Josafa Barbaro", A Narrative of Italian Travels in Persia,
Hakluyt Society, First Series, No. 49, 1873, p. 73., p. 125.
- Purchas, Samuel,
Purchas His Pilgrimes, "Voyages of Master John Newberie",
Vol. VIII, p. 464.
- The Travels
of Pedro Teixeira, Hakluyt Society, Second Ser., No. IX, 1902,
Appendix B, "Relation of the Kings of Persia", p. 161;
Appendix C, p. 243.
- Purchas, Samuel,
Purchas His Pjlgrjmes, "Journal of a Journey of Richard
Steel and John Crowther", Vol. IV, Glasgow, 1905, p. 225/6.
du Chevalier Chardin, en Perse, ed. L. Langlois, Paris, 1821,
Vol. IV, p. 128, p. 154.
Jean, Les Six Voyages de..., Paris, 1678, p. 204. Research
Memoires de Voyages, Paris, 1790, Vol II, p. 40.
William, "Tour from Bengal to Persia", in Pinkerton's
Travels, London, 1812, Vol. 9, p. 256.
- Fraser, James
B., Narrative of a Journey Into Khorasan, London, 1825, Appendix
B, Part I, p. 22; Part II, p. 362, p. 354.
- Oliver, G.
A., Voyage dans L'Empire Othoman..., Paris, 1800, Vol. V,
- Jaubert, Pierre,
Voyage en Armenie et en Perse, Paris, 1821, p. 236.
Gaspard, Voyage en Perse, Paris, 1828, Vol. II, p. 258.
- Chesney, Francis
R., Expedition: Euphrates and Tigris, London, 1850, p. 224.
- Burgess, C.
H., A Brief Notice respectin'g the Trade of the Northern Provinces
of Persia, addressed to T. H. Villiers, n. d., p. 3, Burgess
Family Papers, Box 4, Manuscript Division, N. Y. Public Library.
- St. John,
Lovett, and Euan Smith, Eastern Persia, London, 1876, Vol.
I, p. 175.
- Orsolle, E.,
Le Caucase et la Perse, Paris, 1885, p. 232.
- Sykes, Percy
N., Ten Thousand Miles in Persia, London, 1902, p. 423.
A. Henry, Across Coveted Lands, New York, 1903, p. 318, p.
- Based on help
from John Wertime.
J., Travels in Europe and Asia Minor, London, 1805, p. 260.
- Jaubert, Pierre,
Voyage en Armenie et en Perse, Paris, 1821, p. 355. Research